One of the eternal allures and constant truths about betting on horses is the ability to win a lot by wagering a little. And, when it came to the most popular and fastest-growing wager types in 2020, this eternal truth manifested itself in multiples.

Winning Pick 6-Popular Bets
The life-changing opportunities from hitting a Pick 6 — like this Saratoga one from September 2015 — can be eye-watering. That explains why multi-race bets are the fastest-growing wagers in horseracing. (Image: TwinSpires)

Multiples – as in multiple-race wagers.

The fastest-growing wagers in 2020 were all multi-race wagers, also known as horizontal wagers, because bettors wager off a horizontal string of several races. That contrasts with vertical wagers — your exactas, trifectas, superfectas, High-5s, and the like. Those are single-race exotics where bettors wager on one race by choosing the finishing order: either the first two (exactas), three (trifectas), four (superfectas), or five (Super High 5s).

The fastest-growing wagers of 2020 were the standard Pick 5 and the Pick 5 jackpot. Those multi-race wagers require you to pick five winners in five consecutive races. The standard Pick 5, where 100% of the after-takeout pool goes back to the players, was up more than $156 million from its 2019 numbers. That represents a 29% boost from 2019.

Pick 5’s Win the Fastest-Growing Wager Race for 2020

The Pick 5 jackpot is paid to a single winner unless it’s a mandatory payout day. That wager increased only $17.7 million, but that number reflected a 243% jump from 2019. Combined, those two Pick 5 types enjoyed a $174.4 million lift in 2020, to $717.1 million.

Play word-association with horseplayers and their Holy Grail of wagers is the Pick 6, which requires bettors to nail six consecutive winners. The Pick 6 jackpot wager enjoyed a $71.3 million boost from 2019. That 39% increase came at the expense of the regular Pick 6, as many tracks jumped to the jackpot option and its increased takeout. The standard Pick 6 fell 49%, from $37.6 million to $19 million.

Overall Pick 6 wagers jumped 24% to $272.4 million in 2020.

The Pick 3 and Pick 4 rode the fastest-growing wave toward multi-race wagers. Pick 3 wagers increased by 10% to $536.5 million in 2020. Pick 4 bets rose 6% to $603.6 million.

Daily Doubles Didn’t Double in Popularity

There was one multi-race bet that missed the wave; the venerable daily double. The first multi-race bet offered to horseplayers — dating to 1931 at Ottawa’s Connaught Park Racetrack — dropped 3% to $431.8 million.

The flip side of that comes when you look at the horizontal bets as a total of US track handle. While multi-race bets are growing in popularity and handle, they make up only 19% of wagers at US tracks.

Biggest Racing Wagers 2020-2019

Wager 2020 2019 % Change Change
Win-Place-Show $3,354,000,000 $3,518,000,000 -5% -$164.5 million
Exacta $2,379,300,000 $2,429,000,000 -2% -$49.4 million
Trifecta $1,451,800,000 $1,590,000,000 -9% -$138.3 million
Superfecta $911,500,000 $1,005,500,000 -9% -$94 million
Pick 5 $692,100,000 $535,500,000 +29% +$156.6 million
Pick 4 $603,600,000 $567,300,000 +6% +$36.3 million
Pick 3 $536,500,000 $488,500,000 +10% +$48 million
Daily Double $431,800,000 $443,600,000 -3% -$11.8 million
Pick 6 Jackpot $253,400,000 $182,200,000 +39% +$71.3 million
Super High 5 $29,200,000 $28,700,000 +2% +$0.5 million
Pick 5 Jackpot $25,000,000 $7,300,000 +243% +$17.7 million
Quinella $23,300,000 $13,800,000 +69% +$9.5 million
Pick 6 $19,000,000 $37,600,000 -49% -$18.6 million
Super High 5 Jackpot $16,000,000 $13,000,000 +23% +$3 million

Racing being a zero-sum game where someone wins and someone else loses, it stands to reason that while multi-race wagers enjoyed increased popularity, single-race wagers suffered. And, while win-place-show, exacta, trifecta, and superfecta wagers all declined between 2% and 9%, they still comprised 75% of wagers at US tracks.

Win-place-show, exactas, and trifectas were the only wagers surpassing a billion dollars in handle. Win-place-show wagers dropped 5% to a bit more than $3.35 billion. Exactas dipped 2% to nearly $2.38 billion, while trifectas plunged 9% to nearly $1.452 billion.